Chapter 3: SEIJIN continued
Mejiro served a purpose. As stated by his private political secretary, Shigezo Hayasaka, Tanaka on average met with four hundred to five hundred visitors a day, usually in groups of twenty or thirty. Like a scene from The Godfather, each group of petitioners was allotted a brief audience in which to secure or give thanks for a dispensation of one sort or another. Tanaka kept regular hours for this, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon. The practice was the brainchild of Koichi Honma, the director of Echigo Kotsu and Etsuzankai.
At this time, Honma was referred to as the shadow governor of Niigata. His idea, which began in 1951, came to be known as the "Mejiro Bus Tour." In the beginning it was Honma's idea to raise money from rank and file Etsuzankai members by creating a three-day sojourn to Mejiro. The intial idea was a springtime trip to provide the faithful with a vacation from snowy Niigata. It was also a chance for members to see first hand the great gap between life on the pacific side of Japan and their Ura Nihon side.
On the first day of the tour, they left Niigata on the night train. The next morning, after bathing at a hot spring and having breakfast, they went to Mejiro on one of Kenji Osano's buses. There they met Tanaka, presented their petition, if they had one, and had a photograph taken with him. Tanaka himself would often serve tea and cakes, give an autograph or even a personal hand-painted calligraphy to the Etsuzankai members. After that, they were taken to the national Diet Building, the Imperial Palace and then a hot spring. Mayors, assemblymen, construction executives, businessmen were expected to pay there own way to Mejiro. For them, it was a good chance for undocumented money and favors to pass hands. It was rumored, on average, that Tanaka helped up to five hundred people a year secure employment. This is on top of the tens of thousands of jobs his reclamation of Niigata had already created.
One story printed about a Mejiro Bus Tour in the September 5, 1976 issue of Asahi Shinbun sums up the psychology of the event. A group of petitioners had arrived at Mejiro to ask Tanaka to get their local roads recognized as national ones so that improvements would be paid for by the Japanese government. Tanaka, upon hearing the appeal, criticized the Niigata governor openly and threatened that he would fire the head of Niigata's Civil Engineering Division. When the Department head heard about this incident, he rushed to Mejiro to pay his respects.
To Tanaka's urban critics, this was the kind of story about the daily processions to Mejiro that conjured up a Yakuza image with sinister implications. The inference lacked perspective. For every shady petition there were scores of requests that represented the petitioners' only avenue of hope. The bus tours made Tanaka accessible to the common voter. No other politician had established such an open door. The procession kept Tanaka in touch with his people and allowed him to accomplish far more than anyone who had preceded him.
Otoya Miyagi, one of Japan's leading psychologists, defined Tanaka as restless, talkative, aggressive and never in retreat. This was exactly the kind of person who was subject to isolation in Japanese society, but in Tanaka's case, his disposition took the form of generosity, humor and warmth. His instinct was to do good for his constituency. It was also his job a point that seems to get lost in the criticism he endured for the tempestuous side of his character. His charisma was a balanced ability to inspire by fear, tempered by kindness.
The audiences at Mejiro provided a manageable way for Tanaka to exercise his local and national power. Combining Etsuzankai and his influence within the LDP, a party supported by every major business and banking group in the country, Tanaka, by age forty-three, had built a political fortress in Echigo Kotsu and Etsuzankai.
Capital cities have a tendency to grow in all directions. Such was not the case with Niigata City. Located on the Sea of Japan, its options for urban expansion were limited to just three. Nature, caring little about the needs of municipal planners, situated two swampy lagoons on the city's southern flank. One was a small codicil called "Hasugata"; the other was a very large pool, known as "Toyanogata." (Gata means lagoon.) Consequently, Niigata City grew in an east by north manner.
As early as 1956, a Niigata businesswoman by the name of Fumiyo Saito had a vision of commerical growth for the city. She knew that the lagoons could be filled and as such would one day be worth their weight in gold, so she began buying up the Hasugata and the Toyanogata. Hasugata was 32.6 acres of prime bog, Toyanogata 345.9 acres of the same. It was highly unusual for a single individual in Japan to be able to finance that amount of land on the doorstep of a prefectural capital city. Ms. Saito soon came into financial difficulty and was forced to seek a Tokyo investor. She found Kazuhiro Suzuki, the President of Boso Sightseeing Company. Together they purchased all of Hasugata and 205 acres of Toyanogata. Subsequently, they began filling in Hasugata. The reclamation was nearing completion when events took a turn for the worse. Suzuki was arrested for extortion involving other business. He had been caught attempting to blackmail Hokuetsu Paper Manufacturing Company. By order of the Finance Ministry, Suzuki's bank assets were frozen and all loans were shut off. Suzuki suddenly lacked the capital even to pay property tax. Ms. Saito was in too deep herself to help Suzuki. They were forced to sell, the only problem being to find a buyer interested in an almost filled swamp and half a lagoon. In stepped Tanaka. The year was 1961, the month was September and the cost was 180 million yen ($6.9 million). Tanaka quickly finished the Hasugata reclamation, leaving Toyanogata as a source of collateral, should he or any of his organizations need to borrow a couple million in a hurry. The following year, Tanaka sold only Hasugata, to who else but the Niigata prefectural and city governments. (Niigata City was also a buyer.) The price was 213 million yen ($7.7 million).
To summarize, Tanaka bought 237.6 acres of swamp for $6.9 million in 1961. In 1962, he sold 32.6 acres for $7.7 million a profit of 30 million yen ($766,000). In terms of immediate profit, Tanaka may have broken even, but what of his half of Toyanogata? Its present estimated value is 6 billion yen ($53 million).
One can only imagine the look on Kazuhiro Suzuki's face when he learned that both the president of Hokuetsu Pape, whom had been arrested for blackmailing, and the Finance Ministry official who had ordered his bank privileges cut off turned out to be close friends of Tanaka's. It was a classic sting that gives credence to the old saying "you can't cheat an honest man."
Once sold, Hasugata was transformed into a city baseball park and Konan High School. As a matter of course, Niigata Kotsu was given the bus route for the area. Unlike the Tadami River Project, this story has no conclusion. Some years later, Tanaka shot himself in the foot by having his front organization, Urahama Kaihatsu, file a petition with the prefecture to confirm its ownership of his half of the lagoon. The press picked up the story and traced lagoon ownership back to Tanaka through his maze of real estate companies. People were shocked that Tanaka was the owner, which up to that point had been a well-kept secret. People were equally shocked by the way that Tanaka had concealed his business activities through a wall of seemingly unrelated enterprises.
Tanaka suddenly shed tears, "It cannot be, such a thing was not written in the questions and answers to be expected. I have had little education but I have been reading the materials you have given me every night until three o'clock in the morning."
As related by Tanaka, this episode occurred after he had given mistaken answers in the Diet as Minister of Finance, a position he was appointed to in July of 1962 when Ikeda reshuffled his Cabinet. The story was used as an example of how elite career bureaucrats were moved by Tanaka's sincere character.
He was then forty-four years old and held the third most powerful position in Japan. The second most important post was Secretary General of the LDP and the first was Prime Minister. Tanaka was on a fast track. If he did not have a complex about his lack of formal education prior to this post, social pundits and political rivals did their best to see that he developed one.
To most, it was unfathomable that a backwoods hayseed with only an elementary school education would assume leadership of the nation's most prestigious bureaucracy. The fact that Tanaka did so at such a young age was proof of the huge sums of money he was bringing into the party. The Ministry of Finance was one of the few institutions in postwar Japan that maintained its historical continuity. The American occupation forces had only purged nine of its bureaucrats. Unlike Tanaka, the Ministry's career cadre had all passed rigid examinations and were well schooled in economics and finance.
It would have been extremely easy for Tanaka to have failed at this level of leadership by framing policies that would have betrayed his ignorance. Understanding the complexities of national economics was not his talent. Building interpersonal dependencies was. His first mandate was to win some respect and that was best accomplished by giving respect. Tanaka took the role of student, not of teacher. His staff officers were economic experts so he limited himself to supporting their efforts. The approach was well received. By diligently studying their policies, playing to their egos and adhering to their advice, Tanaka quickly created an atmosphere conducive to the cultivation of obligations and indebtedness (giri) and loyalties (ninjo). Japan's most powerful Ministry was now ready to be "Etsuzankanized."
Tanaka, like Okitsugu Tanuma 195 years earlier, understood a very simple element of human nature. There is nothing like giving money to express affection for others, and once one starts giving money, the receiver becomes dependent on the gifts. Like a generous uncle always ready to give some pocket cash to his nieces and nephews, Tanaka reached deep into the bureaucracy. Not bound by blue-blooded rules of patronage, even a non-career telephone operator could count on a little mochidai or New Year's rice cake money from Tanaka.
As he had done with his Niigata constituency, Tanaka made sure that no one in the Ministry was purposely disenfranchised. He was warmhearted to those who showed loyalty. He was always attentive, at least symbolically, to ceremonial occasions for gift giving, to promotion opportunities and to family tragedy, at all levels of his Ministry.
In this fashion, he built an unparalleled level of staff loyalty that completely undercut the normal pyramid of power. A renegade section chief could not count on Tanaka's ignorance of any given course of conduct, nor could he rely on a management esprit de corps. The lowest ranking clerk could be the son or relative of a member of Etsuzankai a member who only needed to sign up for a Mejiro Bus Tour, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon.
Tanaka's national and local power were dramatically displayed in the 1963 national election. He won his eighth term by scoring an all-time high of 113,392 votes, six points up and 65,745 votes ahead of the second place challenger. His margin of victory exceeded his own vote total during his first five terms. The year of 1963 also offered a new source of wealth, the Shinano Riverbed. Even though Tanaka was busy in the Ministry, he took time to cultivate the 175.8 acres of available profit.
The farmers along the riverbed suffered every three years from floods that played havoc with their income. The recurrent floods made the riverbed a marshy breeding ground for tsutsugamushi mites. For the residents of the area, this marsh was a curse. The farmers who owned the wasteland were anxious to see it sold. As far back as the early fifties, the landowners had been petitioning Tanaka to do something about the horrible environment.
The farmers felt that Tanaka owed them a favor in return for the share purchases that local officials had required them to make in the early 1950s, when Tanaka was electrifying the Nagaoka Railroad. Once Eichigo Kotsu was erected and a number of questionable real estate houses were added Shinsei Kigyo, Muromachi Sangyo and Shin Nihon Denken Tanaka was in a position to help the farmers out.
The land wasn't worth much because it was situated away from both bridge entries to Nagaoka City, and therefore not a target of purchase by the government. If the government had been willing to construct flood control banks, the riverbed could have been dried and property value would have substantially increased. The government had promised to build the banks, but appended the pledge by saying that they couldn't possibly get around to it for a decade or so. Frustrated, the farmers secured a promise from Tanaka to buy the land.
True to his word, Tanaka assigned Muromachi Sangyo (suspected of being the covert political fund raising arm for Tokyo Etsuzankai) to begin the purchases in 1963. Tanaka paid 500 yen ($18) per 3.3 square meters. In 1965, just after the purchase was finished, the Ministry of Construction, at least eight years ahead of schedule, started the construction of a flood control bank. The land was quickly drained and dried. Tanaka also got a promise from the government to build what has since been dubbed the "Nagaoka O-hasi," or the Nagaoka Great Bridge. It connects Tanaka's land to Nagaoka City. The bridge was finished in 1970, making Tanaka's dried riverbed prime real estate, valued at fifty to one hundred times what Tanaka had paid for it. The farmers felt cheated and filed a legal complaint. (Two farmers held out with the backing of the Japan Communist Party and the case went to litigation.)
In addition to being prime real estate, the land was rich with gravel,
a small point unknown to the farmers who were so anxious to get rid of
it. Tanaka did have one problem land use for profitable development required
governmental approval. Because the land couldn't produce profit as long
as it was designated a "riverbed," Tanaka, in collusion with
the Mayor of Nagaoka, petitioned the Ministry of Construction to remove
the designation and free up the land. To this end, the city, speaking
for Tanaka, offered to build an old folk's welfare center and high school
on the property, and that being the case, the Ministry released the land.
Tanaka then sold eighty-eight acres of his land to the city for about
799 million yen ($8.47 million), in effect making himself and the
In late 1964, Prime Minister Ikeda resigned due to a losing bout with cancer. Ikeda had been very popular, so naturally the old Hatoyama group had to sit out the Prime Ministership again. Sato became the Prime Minister and Tanaka stayed on as Finance Minister. The Ikeda years had been pace setting for Etsuzankai: Route 17, the New Shimizu Tunnel, Route 242, the Tochio to Nagaoka Highway, the Tadami compensation, profits from Hasugata and Tanaka's own political-business empire. Tanaka's time as Finance Minister during the Ikeda Administration also shattered a few records. In just three years he managed to sell off more public land than the previous four Finance Ministers combined.
Land is so valuable in Japan that Tanaka's public bargain sale raised a few pairs of eyebrows. One such pair belonged to Shoji Tanaka (no relation), a Dietman from Niigata's Fourth District. Shoji was a strange character. He liked to acquire political funds by watching his fellow Dietmen like a hawk. Once he got wind of wrong doing, he would threaten the suspect persons with media exposure if they didn't cough up a piece of the action. Shoji began gunning for Tanaka during the early phases of the Tadami River Project.
In 1965, just as Sato was appointing Kakuei Tanaka to the post of Secretary General of the LDP, Shoji discovered that during his tenure as Finance Minister in 1963, Tanaka had sold his friend Kenji Osano the .9 acre (3,600 square meter), state-owned Toranomon Park in downtown Tokyo, at one-third the going rate. Osano picked up the 3.3 billion yen ($112 million) chunk of land for a mere 1.1 billion yen ($37.5 million). Confident that he had Tanaka treed, Shoji confronted him for a pay-off. Tanaka, caught off guard, sent Shoji to Osano who provided the requested funds. Shortly after, Shoji was arrested on charges of extortion. He had correctly guessed Tanaka's behavior as shady; what he hadn't realized was that under Japanese law, at the time, the land deal had been perfectly legal or at least legal for Osano and Tanaka. But all wasn't lost. Once captured, Shoji sang like a bird, publicly exposing and bringing down three different Cabinet Ministers in the Sato Government as well as spawning investigations on a host of others in the LDP.
Japan was treated to its third great postwar scandal. This one designated the "Black Mist." Tanaka's role in this affair was menacingly complex, involving his quid pro quo relationship with Kenji Osano as well as his financial and political positions.
Osano received one other favor from Tanaka in 1963. It was in this year that Osano attempted to make his first big move into the international hotel business he wanted to buy up the Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Hawaii. There was one snag in the plan. In those days it was extremely difficult for Japanese citizens to get permission to remit domestic capital for the purchase of foreign real estate. Osano tried to raise the money through foreign markets but came up short of the needed dollars. Osano desperately needed permission to convert some of his local currency. It just happened that the controlling government agency was the administrative office of the Finance Ministry that was headed by Tanaka. For Osano, long-standing policy could be set aside just this once. Tanaka gave him special permission and Osano got the Princess Kaiulani Hotel.
Two favors granted, Toronomon Park and money conversion permission, Osano would repay the debt in 1964. Prior to the Tanaka dynasty, Niigata had produced a prefectural Kuromaku by the name of Yoshio Terao. This grand old man of the shadows had sporadically acted as a mediator between Tokyo and Niigata business and political interests. Terao was the president of a sizable housing company known as Nihon Denken, (Valued at 4 billion, 600 million yen, with land holdings of 100 million yen.) located in Tokyo. He had grown old and sick; his failing health, along with disinterest in Nihon Denken, inspired him to begin the search for an heir. Terao, a native of Niigata, wanted to bequeath his company to another native of Niigata. Impressed by Tanaka, Terao willed the sickly company to him in 1961. Tanaka used the company to help finance Echigo Kotsu and as a cover for acquiring Toyano and Hasu lagoons. After that, he shifted those properties to his own creation, Shinsei Kigyo (Shinsei Enterprises) and later shuffled them over to Urahama Development Company. When he finished all that, Nihon Denken was deeply in the red, so he began searching for a way to dump the corporate albatross. In stepped Osano, relieving Tanaka of his burden by buying Nihon Denken for a handsome 1.8 billion yen ($58 million). All this favor exchanging made for a poor image, but again it wasn't illegal.
The Black Mist investigations also dug up the case of Kyowa Sugar Manufacturing Company. Kyowa had been a favored recipient of Tanaka's land give away policy, a little too much so in fact. A trace on company expenditures lead straight to Tokyo Etsuzankai. Why a sugar company with no Niigata affiliations would donate 2.5 million yen ($75,000) to the group was at issue. Etsuzankai was a legally registered entity. No answers were forthcoming.
In all these instances, Tanaka skirted the public prosecutor, but he didn't escape punishment. Eisaku Sato used the allegations to demote Tanaka within the party and to promote his heir apparent, fellow Tokyo University Law School major, Takeo Fukuda. Fukuda, up to this point, had been dwarfed by Tanaka; Black Mist gave him his first chance to pass the Niigata nabob. Toward the end of 1966, Tanaka's two years as Secretary General and controller of the party purse were ended abruptly and substituted by a chairmanship in the Research Commission for Outlining Municipal Policy. Here was a post to which no one would pay attention. Tanaka had left the post of Finance Minister only to be followed by Fukuda, and now again after leaving the Party Secretariat, Fukuda took his spot. From this moment forth, Tanaka and Fukuda became locked in a bitter power struggle that would become known as the "Kaku-Fuku War," with Fukuda representing Omote Nihon (The Right Side of Japan) nobility and Tanaka representing the canaille from Ura Nihon (The Wrong Side of Japan).
Once again thrown into the pit, Tanaka wasted no time turning his exile with the Research Commission for Outlining Municipal Policy from punishment to recompense. The study group of scholars attempted to address the pressing national problems of pollution, housing shortages, overloaded transportation systems, deficient communication services and the combination of rural depopulation mixed with Tokyo-Osaka overpopulation. Their recommendations for contingency planning primarily centered on steps toward national decentralization. This summation fit remarkably well with Etsuzankai's narrower notion of centralizing Niigata's Third District. Tanaka was understandably enthusiastic about any national policy that would strip Tokyo of its preeminence, even if only a little. Decentralization as an official policy would free federal money for developing rural constituencies, thereby raising the possibility for Tanaka to have a shot at "Etsuzankanizing" the whole country. The official government study was compiled in 1967 and adapted by the LDP in May of 1968. Tanaka would use this "white paper" as a spring board to publish his own thesis on the subject four years later. Released by Tanaka as a political pamphlet in 1972, Nippon Retto Kaizo-Ron (A Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago) became a mega best seller.
Assuming an inveterate minimum GNP growth rate of 7.5 percent, Tanaka streamlined the Research Commission's bureaucratic-speak into a cosmic political platform, where no city in the nation would exceed 250,000 people. These core cities would be distributed evenly throughout the country and connected by justly arranged networks of national freeways and bullet trains making any area in Japan accessible to any other in a single day. Further, each core city would be transformed into a computerized telecommunications center with information access equal to any other core city. Not wishing to leave a stone unturned, Tanaka went on to design a grand foreign policy that conceived of Japan as chief benefactor to and spokesman for the less developed nations, particularly those in Asia. This "butter minus the guns" approach defined the nation's proper role in international affairs as one of mediator in the "North-South Conflict." Permeating the entire thesis, almost expectantly, seemed to be the belief that domestic and international tranquility somehow hinged on the mono-dimensional concept of construction.
Dreams of national leadership were still a bit premature. Tanaka was, after all, in Sato's dog house. The 1967 national election provided escape. The mass media tried to create hysteria over the Black Mist Scandal. Socialists boldly predicted Sato's demise and the beginning of the end for the LDP's twelve-year reign. When the smoke cleared, Sato's forces had lost only one seat and that seat wasn't Tanaka's. Despite the disgrace of Black Mist and Tanaka's removal from the Party Secretariat, he defeated his nearest rival by 60,750 votes, scoring his highest total ever 122,756 votes. From Niigata's Third District, winning a seat in the Diet had never required more than 55,031 votes. By this time, Etsuzankai was bigger than that, making Tanaka's re-election a bit of a mathematical absurdity. It should be noted that during Tanaka's Black Mist period he delivered another national highway to his constituents, Route 291 (Gunma Prefecture to Kashiwazaki), converted his road to Tadami River Dam into a super tourist toll expressway known as the "Silverline" and finished the Tadami Railroad.
Even though his re-election was never in doubt, the Japanese press was
hard put to explain the 1967 Black Mist election. The reason was certainly
economic. Under LDP tutelage, the nation was fast becoming a world economic
power. Political ethics were a rather puny issue compared to this.
The 1967 election and redemption cleaned the slate. It culminated a twenty-one-year rise to power that began with Tanaka's arrest for the Tankan Bribery Scandal and ended with Black Mist. Tanaka's Seijin period was a tale of five lists:
|© Steven Hunziker.|